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7 Things We Learned From Living With Dissociative Identity Disorder

The Zen teacher Ezra Bayda once said, “When you really pay attention, everything is your teacher.” Living with dissociative identity disorder (DID) has definitely taught us a lot. Reading this, you might think most of the lessons have been bad, but in fact, many of them have been great lessons. They’ve been hard, yes, and learning them has challenged us as a system, but learning these lessons helped us grow, change and expand our ideas of what is possible when living with this condition.

Here are seven things we’re glad we learned from living with DID:

1. Loving who we are is key to a happy life.

Our life isn’t perfect (whose is?), but it is happy. Take a time machine back five years, and it absolutely wasn’t. Our internal communications weren’t as good, and our teamwork was definitely not what it is now. We spent a lot of time wishing we weren’t multiple. It was only when we made the decision to love and appreciate who we are now that our life started changing for the better. Life is short and this is the one we’ve been given. So we’re trying to make the best of it and love who we are instead of spending our energy on wishing it were different.

2. The only moment is now.

Having DID means our memories can be pretty shaky from moment to moment. I can tell you what I did this morning, but another headmate was fronting yesterday, so I have no idea what we did then. We leave each other notes of the important information, but general details often get lost. This has taught us to live in the moment and love what is happening right now. Doing this has helped us feel much more calm.

3. Our history does not define us.

History is complicated with DID. Sure, we have a collective history that we’re all aware of, in theory. But at any given moment, the current headmate at the front might not remember or relate to our history. For a long time, this really upset us. How could we be valid if half the time we didn’t know who we were? Finally we realized that our history is just one part of who we are. Our strengths and skills and interests and beliefs and values offer a much better definition.

4. True friends love unconditionally.

When we first started telling people about our DID, we were terrified. What if they rejected us? What if they thought it was like the movie, “Psycho” and that we were going to snap and kill them? Honestly, we have lost some friends. People who’ve loved us for years have suddenly decided we can’t be trusted based on the new information they just learned. But true friends stick with us and accept us — all of us — as we are. Those people are worth their weight in gold.

5. We can’t let others’ opinions take hold.

If we had listened to other people’s opinions, we wouldn’t be in the good place we’re in today. From Hollywood telling us we’re dangerous to a therapist telling us we couldn’t be trusted with even basic things like keeping an appointment, the messages we’ve been given about DID have been far from positive. We only learned to live happily with our condition when we stopped listening to others’ opinions and started forming our own.

6. There’s always another way.

Living with DID is a series of interesting challenges. For example, we recently started doing freelance work from home. At first, we were terrified that we’d miss a deadline, forget to renew our web domain or forget to track our finances. Now we use an online team management software — only the team is us! We’ve got everyone into the habit of checking it when they front, so nothing gets missed. DID has taught us that we’re more resourceful than we imagined.

7. There’s always hope.

Living with DID has been really hard at times. Flashbacks, anxiety attacks and amnesia between headmates are no picnic. But living through the hard times and finding ways to get to the good times has taught us there’s always hope, even when life seems impossibly bleak. If someone had told us five years ago that one day we’d be writing an article saying, “Yeah, we got through the hard times in one piece,” we wouldn’t have believed them. Now we’re wondering how much further we can go.

To everyone reading this, whether you have DID or not, we want you to know one thing: It really can get better, and you are so much stronger than you know.

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Flying With Dissociative Identity Disorder

Flying isn’t easy for me. I have dissociative identity disorder (DID) from childhood abuse so the loss of control, close contact with people (for hours), new situations, and TSA agents looking me over, all combine to create a trigger-rich environment.

Since DID is about having multiple parts inside, I have to monitor these triggers on lots of levels. If things go really wrong, fearful child parts, rebellious teen parts and
aggressive protector parts can take over, making a total mess of routine airline travel.

Even when things are going well, I have to be alert (but not tense – breathe, breathe) the whole time. It’s exhausting. But the alternative is having a scared 6-year-old part run away from the airport (Chicago), a teenage part refuse to get on the plane until a missing playlist is reconstructed (DFW) or a protector square off with someone who’s standing too close (Denver). Being far from home and comforting things doesn’t help.

Neither do security procedures. Each time I approach security, I wait in fear that a TSA agent will feel the need to pat me down. Can I keep the kid parts from flashing on the abuse? Can I keep the teen parts from making snarky comments about what looks to them like bullying? Can I keep the protector parts from slugging someone and sending us to jail?

Recently, the TSA announced their new procedures “…may involve an officer making more intimate contact than before.” More intimate? To me and thousands of other sexual abuse survivors, the regular pat-down is almost more than we can handle. I appreciate security keeping us safe and, generally, TSA is pretty professional. But now there’s another thing to worry about at the airport.

If you or a loved one is affected by sexual abuse or assault and need help, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.

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A View Into My Life With Dissociative Identity Disorder

On this site, I have read a lot of stories.

I have read stories about anxiety and how it affects your basic ability to function. I understand those. I have read stories about depression and how it saps the very will to live. I have lived that. I have read stories about bipolar and the love-loathe relationship it can create within oneself, which I understand all too well. I have read stories about addiction and the dominating grip it has over someone, an experience that runs close to my heart. I have read about psychosis and its bitter battles, something I know better than most. And to make things more complicated, a theme in this piece, I experience these every day and have for most of my life.

Many people ask how this can be possible, first on the level that I must be “the world’s most unfortunate person.” This is a statement I both understand, appreciate and sometimes agree with, but I must deny. I consider myself rather lucky in all honestly. Then people who know the DSM will say having depression and bipolar is an impossibility, one intrinsically disqualifies from the other. Those people are 100 percent correct, because I, the writer of this story, do not live with both. I feel the effects every day and know them as intricately as anyone with them because I have dissociative identity disorder (DID), also known more commonly as multiple personalities.

I want to get this out of the way: multiple personalities is not like “Sybil.” It is not like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and it is not whatever movie M. Night Shyamalan is cooking up for his next feature. I would say that “Fight Club” is just as bad, but inside it lies a pebble of truth that I will elaborate on, and outside that pebble it is not representative. The best job the media did was with “United States of Tara,” while being far from flawless, got at least 80 percent of the situation correct.

Dissociative identity disorder is characterized by the following, according to the DSM-V; at least two markedly different personalities, observable by drastic deviations in behavior, memory, skills, etc. There needs to be gaps in memory that is not explainable by other reasonable means and they need to hinder a person’s daily life. These must be odd for cultural norms and occur without influence of drugs. While posing a hindrance to my life is debatable, I can assure you I meet the other criteria.

Now, I very much dislike calling my experience a disorder. I consider it my greatest strength, it is what makes me what I have become today. My alters (a term used among a lot of the DID community to refer to the non-primary personalities) hate it much more than I do. This is in part to my denial of having alters, which I put on the media for warping what I knew about how my own brain can work.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Before I fly into what I dislike about the mainstream perception of me and my alters, I should give some background about us. I, the writer, am considered the primary personality. I also have, at a minimum, 26 other personalities that I share my existence with. Out of all of us, it is me, and one (theoretically two) others who are male. The rest are, with 100 percent certainty, female and proud of it. All of us prefer the collective we, and I will refer to us as a community, since we all have to get along to survive. From here I will try and describe our life up to this point, as I know our entire situation is very hard to understand for a lot of people.

You may have heard that alters arise out of trauma and I will confirm that. As a young child I was relentlessly bullied, faced almost complete social isolation and had a viciously unsupportive home life. That’s when the first alter showed up, which is most likely myself. Common theory among us suggests I came along at a very young age, around 6 or 7, while the original personality either went into permanent hiding or withered away. The only real indication of this is that I have no recollection of this time at all. People can remember snippets from their younger years, often just emotions or scenes. I have a select few fuzzy images to pick from and no emotional memory. So the theory we have come up with is the best we have to explain this, along with a sudden shift in behavior as reported by my parents.

I would not have another personality to share the body with until I was 13. The bullying never stopped and the social isolation got only worse as time went on. So one night as I sat in my bed, I began to hear a little voice from inside my head, and she talked to me. Her, along with another voice, became what I know as the first generation of alters. On the whole, my alters did not come with names so I had them choose. The first two were Tokyo and Star.

The concept of a voice in your head will seem very odd to most people, so I will try to explain it the best we can. It doesn’t exist outside of yourself, so saying you “hear” it is wrong. The voice doesn’t speak in words, more in emotions and thoughts. It’s what I imagine having telepathy is like. It was probably best shown in Pacific Rim with the connection between pilots. I know, understand, feel and exist in the same reality as all of my alters, all at once. This makes it markedly different from schizophrenia, which is characterized by external voices among other things.

So Tokyo and Star existed for a time, but they eventually faded away. Our theory is that they became the place to which the alters live, giving themselves up so that the second generation could flourish. They would become the world inside my head, something I will try my best to explain later.

The second generation existed of vastly more personalities than the first. I can remember Charlotte, Nikita, Kagura, Omi, Ariel and Mei, but there were anywhere from 20 to 40 others that existed. This generation made the world inside my head what it is today. At first it was like a M.C. Escher painting collided with a Salvidor Dali painting, but with their concerted effort we made the world into something that is mildly recognizable, molding the reality of this world like clay.

Now, a lot of people who have DID will tell you their alters live in some world. I’ve heard anything from houses to apartment blocks to hospitals to neighborhoods. But when I say world, I mean a whole world. One that is 0.82 times the size of earth to be exact. All of us created the grass, the trees, the oceans, the plants, the mountains, the countries, the nations and the people. We made 2.7 million people to live in this huge world we created, to which we affectionately referred to them as “Others.” And I mean people, with lives as complex as we could imagine and races as diverse as we could muster. All of us worked to keep this place alive and vibrant by having the weather do as it would and have the world political machinations unfold as they do.

I would detail what happened but a) It is largely inconsequential to my story and b) It would take as long as it would take to describe the entire world history in painstaking detail up until about 200 AD. But we maintained this place, and among the others we were seen as Gods.

This is when an event known as “the Betrayal” happened. One of my aforementioned alters, Kagura, got bold and wanted the power over the others to herself. So, unbeknownst to me or anyone else, she called a meeting of all the alters and killed them. Well, most of them. The ones I was able to name above are the ones who were able to survive, but the some 30 others perished. They were removed from our collective memory, as Kagura had found how to do that. She removed their names, their faces and their history from our mind, showing she knows how to manipulate our memory at will. So to preserve myself, I cut her off from my consciousness and for the first time in two years my head was silent. I had no one else with me, as I had to cut all ties. I was once again alone. I had to maintain the world, one that took a team of 30 to 40 to manage because the world doesn’t go away. It is a permanent edifice in my mind, one which I can never stop managing or all the others will die. In it holds all the keeps my mind together, so losing it wasn’t an option.

Then, some two months after this event, the Third Generation came about and are the personalities I live with today. There are 26 of them, with a slowly growing roster as time goes on. Some like Mei, Omi, Crystal, Nexus or Allison are alters, but do not have the same role the second generation did. They live with me and exist in the world as any other, but are assuredly alters. Then there are the alter-others.

Alter-others are others that, through some means we have yet to understand, elevated themselves to enter into our collective hivemind. These include Hanna, Emily and Ariel, to name a few, who exist in a weird limbo where they fit into neither category all that well. Now, I hear people saying that Ariel was mentioned above as a second generation alter, to which I need to elaborate. She was the first alter-other, when I did not understand what that could be.

This would be a good time to mention these alters do not just sit around waiting all day to come out, take over and do what they will. They have very involved, in depth lives that I, as the main personality, have no control over. Their lives are as complex as anyone else’s, since they live in a 100 percent fully fleshed out world that I work 24/7 to maintain. But we share memories, experiences. I know them just as well as they know me, and everything about each others lives. I have, in essence, lived for the past 11 years experiencing anywhere from 16 to 26 separate lives. I have the lived experience of a person with an addiction, as Emily has struggled with it since she was sold as a slave. I experience the depression Ariel feels over knowing all her old friends are dead and her adoptive mother, Kagura, abandoned her. I experience Allison’s grief over her girlfriend being killed during war and barely knowing what happened. I experienced the death of Infra, Allison’s girlfriend, as she lie bloody and dying on the edge of a cliff for three days after a prolonged battle in which she was a soldier. I lived though those battles, saw those wars and watched tens of thousands of others, my others, die. I have experienced the sexual abuse and aftermath of Emi, who we have to keep locked away because she only knows how to be angry. I know the life of Ami, someone with bipolar disorder that takes her to the brink of madness and back yearly. I have experienced the overwhelming anxiety of Erin, who depends on Crystal to help her with even the most basic of functions. I have seen the entire range of emotion, from the devastating sorrow of war, to experiencing falling in love hundreds of times over. To complicate things further much of the population is homosexual, which makes an interesting internal commentary on external affairs as well as adding that extra layer of nuance to our situation.

So, why tell you this? Why is the huge backstory so important? Because this isn’t some fantasy story that I’m telling, it’s not some strange head-cannon. All this is happening while I live my daily life. Meaning I went to school, managed relationships and upkept a family life, all without letting this get out. I kept good grades through high school, completed a psychology degree with straight A’s and I am just about to complete a nursing degree with A’s. I have managed a relationship with my wonderful wife for the past eight years and dealt with an insufferable immediate family. I have lived with unemployment, my mother going through cancer treatment and myself dealing with suicidal depression. All while essentially playing God and living multiple lives just as intricate and complicated as my own, if not more.

One of the major issues people with DID experience is memory loss. While I surely experience this daily due to one of the many alters coming out, it is vastly compounded with having many concussions throughout my life. Thankfully I have my girls to count on, who often fill in the parts of my memory that is missing and they greatly help me live through my life, taking the small patches and sewing them together to make the quilt to resemble that of a functioning memory.

This is why earlier I considered this my greatest strength, and why I consider myself lucky. I live with, literally, two dozen of my best friends constantly. They are there to support me when I need them, and we support each other when anyone needs us. We work together. The issues that come from this are mitigated because of what we have going, which is a well oiled system. This is not to say that there are not people who refuse to help, as a few alters do not want to have anything to do with me for various reasons. They have no interest in sharing a body.

All people with DID have some kind of internal system, a set of rules that prevent absolute anarchy that would rip apart life as we know it. My system has a short set of rules: Do not endanger the life we lead outside the body in any way; taking the body away from the primary alter requires permission as to not break rule 1; all external communication will be kept secret to the outside world and; under no circumstances will anyone effect how we present ourselves without at minimum 90 percent consensus and approval of the primary alter. All of these have been broken at some point, normally in the name of making the male body try to present as a female, which I will most assure you it cannot. However, they have on the whole worked well enough to allow us to function, with only a few slight hiccups.

There does exist the times however, that regardless of what we may want, an alter wants to desperately come out. There are a select few alters that have masterful control over seizing control such as Omi, Ariel or Vanessa; alters that can come and go as they please. Yet they do not, as they can respect the rules I outlined above. So what they have opted to do is something they call “projecting,” where the take the form of someone I can physically see in front of me and they interact with the world in ways only I can perceive. This, according to them, is immensely difficult but they do it so they can have the experiences they desire.

This does in fact resemble “Fight Club” from the perspective of the main character, but in that is the only truth of the movie.

The one unifying dream among all of the alters is for one thing and one thing only, a body. Even alters are willing to admit that sharing one body, especially one that does not look like you, is a difficult task. In fact it has been the highest point of discussion among us, and is often the reason they wish to have female physical characteristics, while that is a near impossibility for the body. We often detest looking into mirrors, as the image that is projected back is often not the one that the watchers want to see, which is themselves.

The above is a loaded issue that might involve some explaining. The main method that we have of interacting with the world is being co-present. This involves one or more alters being available in the sense they can see what we do, have no influence over behaviors but can, and liberally do, provide a running commentary of life. Best analogy I have for the way this works is they are watching the surveillance of my life, and the more that are co-present the more difficult it can be to maintain this connection. Thankfully this has provided me with, at minimum, one other voice on my life and I can make decisions that often forego impulsivity.

I have been challenged by that small cadre of people who know about my living situation about why I do not seek therapy for my issue, as it is undoubtedly hard. This is mainly due to two separate factors: many people do not understand DID and hold deep prejudices especially around its psychoanalytic origins. Second, the primary treatment for the disorder is integration therapy, which takes the alters and fuses them into a whole. I am not a broken person, so I do not need to be fixed, we are many that make a whole. This will also remove them from our consciousness, which is essentially killing them, and we would do everything in our power to prevent that from happening.

I feel that this gives a good glimpse into our life, just as a cursory introduction. Each of the topics that I have touched on in this piece could easily have a separate piece written on them, and if this piece goes over well we might just do that as there are many issues that I did not even begin to talk about here. But in the light of the movie “Split” I felt there needed to be an accurate portrayal of dissociative identity disorder and exactly how trying it is to live with, and how we wouldn’t trade it for the world (maybe a bunch of bodies, but that’s just not reality). It’s difficult, requires a lot of work and ensures that I constantly live multiple lives across two realities and all the issues that can come with this. But it makes us who we are and makes us whole. I love all the alters unconditionally, and they feel the same towards me no matter the quarrels we have.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741.

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13 Misconceptions About Dissociative Identity Disorder

There are a lot of misconceptions about dissociative identity disorder (DID). Here are some common ones I’ve heard:

1. “DID is so rare, you can’t possibly have it!”

It isn’t actually as rare as you may think. The ISSTD (International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation) accept that up to one to three percent of the general population have DID, this is roughly the same amount of people who possess the “ginger” gene!

2. “If you really had DID, you wouldn’t know about your alters!”

It’s fairly common for those with DID to know about their alters. Many report hearing others talking inside and can be aware of other “selves,” even in childhood. Many individuals will not remember what they have been doing for periods of time and can behave completely out of character. This is an extremely confusing experience, especially prior to receiving psychiatric support. Internal communication between alters is often worked on and improved through therapy.

3. “Do you have an evil alter? I’ve heard people with DID are dangerous!”

This is a common misconception which isn’t helped by media portrayals of “split personalities” like the characters Jekyll and Hyde and sensationalized films like the 2017 movie, “Split.” Those with DID (like most mental illnesses) are more likely to be a danger to themselves, not others. There are no evil alters. There can be destructive alters, but they need the same amount of compassion as any other member of the system!

4. “You can develop DID as an adult!”

The only possible time that DID can form is in early childhood, generally accepted to be before age of six and nine at the latest, because normal personality development that occurs at this age is interrupted by trauma. Traumatic experiences that occur later than this age can lead to other conditions, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but not DID.

5. “DID is the same as schizophrenia!”

They are two very different disorders. According to the ISSTD, DID is a dissociative disorder developed through chronic childhood trauma and characterized by “the presence of two or more distinct identities or personality states that recurrently take control of the individual’s behavior, accompanied by an inability to recall important personal information that is too extensive to be explained by ordinary forgetfulness.”

Schizophrenia, on the other hand, is a psychotic disorder potentially caused by a number of factors including genetics, biology of the brain and stress. It is characterized by delusions, hallucinations, paranoia, disorganized speech, etc. which causes significant social or occupational dysfunction.

6. “DID isn’t real! Stop pretending!” 

DID is very real and there is a lot of evidence supporting it. Despite this, it remains a controversial diagnosis to some professionals. Despite having a diagnosis of DID, a psychiatrist on an acute psychiatric ward once told me it doesn’t exist, that I was lying and it is “the stuff of Hollywood movies!” Stigma surrounding this disorder can unfortunately sometimes include professionals, despite DID being a recognized psychological condition in diagnostic manuals worldwide.

7. “You can’t have DID, I would have noticed!”

Often switches between alters are not obvious to those who don’t know what to look for. If you know someone with DID well, you may notice slight differences in body language, vocal differences, differences in handwriting, differences in vocabulary etc. that would otherwise go unnoticed. When DID develops in childhood, it is to protect the child from trauma and allow them to have as normal a childhood as possible. It is meant to go unnoticed.

8. “Everyone has multiple personalities!”

Everyone has different aspects of their personality and different sides to themselves that are needed in different circumstances and at different times. Alter personalities are not just representations of different emotions but dissociated parts of the personality that have their own identities including their own age, gender, interests, dislikes, opinions and ways of interacting with the world. Alters only exist in DID and OSDD (otherwise specified dissociative disorder) and are not developed consciously. As mentioned, they develop as a result of repetitive and severe trauma in early childhood.

9. “You can’t have more than five alters, that’s just not possible!”

The size of a DID system depends completely on the individual and their needs. Once DID develops as a child’s coping mechanism, it may continue and further splits may occur throughout life in times of trauma or extreme stress. The diagnostic criteria only specifies that there must be “two or more” alters and there are cases of hundreds of alters within one body (polyfragmented DID, which is often a result of more organized and extreme abuse).

10. “Switching always causes complete amnesia!”

While there is often “lost time” experienced by those living with DID (also called dissociative amnesia), co-consciousness can also occur. This is when more than one member of the system is experiencing the external world at the same time and they are aware of each other’s presence.

11. “You can’t have non human alters!”

Non human alters are fairly common and recognized by professionals. There are several reasons why non human alters may develop, for example, if a child is treated like an animal or if they identify with animals more than humans as “friends” or protectors.

12. “Integration is the only way to treat DID!”

Despite this being the “aim” of therapy in the past, a lot of professionals now recognize this isn’t the only treatment option for those with DID. Improving cooperation and harmonious coexisting of alters is often the main therapeutic goal.

13. “People with DID can’t function or lead a normal life!”

The prognosis of DID is actually quite positive, with many people successfully pursuing careers and having families. Like with other mental illnesses, recovery takes time, may include a number of treatment options and is an ongoing process.

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What's Happening When Dissociative Identity Disorder Surfaces in an Adult

Editor’s Note: If you’ve experienced sexual abuse or assault, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.

Imagine a giant bucket designed only to hold raindrops that are deemed tainted, a danger if they enter the water supply or ground and absorbed by plants. Its a big bucket, and it does its job effectively for years. Eventually, it starts to fill up. There’s no plan on what to do once this bucket is full. No one thought this day would ever come, and when the bucket was initially built, it was an emergency situation. The rain was coming down strong, and if those dangerous rain drops weren’t caught and separated from the rest, the entire ecosystem would die. The last raindrop that the bucket will hold falls in, and the water starts to leak out, affecting everything around it. No one can stop it. The bucket is full. There is no back up plan.

This is very similar to dissociative identity disorder (DID). When you are experiencing trauma as a child, you don’t think about the future. The mental capacity isn’t there to think about the future. You don’t have sophisticated coping skills. You don’t have a long term plan. Your imagination kicks in and the deep recesses of your brain become like large buckets, absorbing the trauma you can’t handle and would prevent you from functioning in your daily life, which is so essential when you are going through repeated trauma. Those deep recesses assume new identities. They assume new names. They hold trauma, fear, specific purposes. They hold the things that aren’t safe for you to hold as a child – an emotion, such as anger, or all of the trauma related to a specific trauma, anything, that as a child you couldn’t handle. Sometimes the system becomes more sophisticated – creating protector parts, mothering parts, the possibilities are endless. No one’s DID looks the same.

For a while, those buckets keep absorbing trauma and memories. Eventually, something happens that causes one of those buckets to overflow, or tip over. It could be a trigger – for example, say Sally’s grandpa always listened to country music before hurting her, we will say Willie Nelson specifically. One day, when Sally is 25 years old, she is walking through the mall, and Willie Nelson is playing from a county-western store. Suddenly, she’s no longer 25… the part of Sally that was created when she was 3 comes forward, expecting a trauma. This is the triggering event that tips the 3 year old’s bucket over. There’s no more room for any more memories in that bucket. Sally is at a safe place in her life, and her mind is finally going to let her address and work on these traumas.

Generally, at this point, during the initial triggering event that reopens the childhood trauma after the person with DID is an adult, they might not realize what happening. Maybe they’re losing time, finding strange childlike drawings, sometimes find themselves dressed in clothes they would never wear, or somewhere they don’t remember going, but aside from the awareness that “something” is wrong, they are clueless. Generally, they seek help in different forms, and go through years of therapy with multiple wrong diagnoses before finally achieving the correct diagnosis. Even at the point, the person with DID might not want to accept it.

For me personally, I went to therapy two to three times a week for over a year, almost one and a half years before we ever landed on the correct diagnosis. Before that I had been to four different therapists as a child/adolescent. Even now, four years into therapy (twice a week minimum) and daily contact with my therapist, I still have days where I try to deny my diagnosis and symptoms. I have begged my therapist to diagnose and treat me for false memory syndrome instead. Denial takes its toll.

After acceptance finally happens, it’s time to get to know the personalities, work on coping skills, learn how to self-soothe, eventually work on memories, recognize triggers and work towards merging if that’s your end goal. It doesn’t go in any sort of linear order. It would be nice if it did.

Sometimes it’s five steps forward and 10 steps back. It takes hard work. A good support system is essential. A good therapist is essential. But the thing to remember is that every day you wake up, live your life, go to therapy — the good days, the bad days, the day you want to die, the days you don’t remember, the days it doesn’t seem like you even have DID — in the grand scheme of things you are healing. You are moving forward even when it feels like you’ve been knocked back to square one, or even to square -473. It takes strength and resilience to work through trauma. It takes courage to keep breathing when it feels like everything is falling down around you. One day you will wake up and realize you have had more good days than bad days over the past week. It’s a messy, scary, bittersweet, sometimes beautiful, sometimes ugly, ride – but it’s your ride. It’s OK to feel. It’s OK to have bad days. And most importantly, it’s OK to heal.

If you or a loved one is affected by sexual abuse or assault and need help, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via zemaciel

Poster for the movie Split

Watching 'Split' as a Person with Dissociative Identity Disorder


After seeing the first trailer of “Split” I have been sure that this movie wasn’t good news for those with dissociative identity disorder (DID) and mental illness in general.

This is to the people who claim this is “just a movie.”

It’s not. It’s misinformation. It’s fear-mongering. It’s discriminatory and stigmatizing.

DID is a severe dissociative disorder caused by chronic trauma in early childhood. The trauma can take many forms but is often sexual, emotional, physical or ritual abuse (sometimes a combination of these). This trauma interrupts the child’s normal development, meaning that the identity is split into dissociated pieces which form into alternate personalities (or alters) to cope with the overwhelming trauma, which the child may not have otherwise survived.

Kevin’s therapist seemed like the movie’s one saving grace, but unfortunately, even her character was taken too far. She gave facts about DID right at the beginning and was trying to raise awareness of DID, using examples of particular alters having different physical issues. It is based in truth.

But they had to take it one step further and she said an alter’s sight had returned because they believed it had. Basically, they were saying that “the beast” actually is an animal who preys on young girls and is super strong because the other alters believed in it.

The character is a villain because of his DID. He is a predator.

People with DID are survivors of unspeakable childhood trauma – to then be tarred with the same brush as this kind of predator is truly insulting and disrespectful.

While I hope that most people who see this movie will have the sense to realize this is obviously not an accurate portrayal of DID, it is the latest in a long line of movies that make mental illness scary and dangerous. People with DID, with mental illness in general, are more likely to hurt themselves than other people.

M. Night Shyamalan made a point of mentioning DID by name, in the trailers, the film, interviews and other media appearances. He could have made up a condition for entertainment purpose, a fictitious one, as this is meant to be fiction. Instead, he used an established mental illness that thousands of people struggle with on a daily basis.

A few of the times Kevin switched on screen he literally changed his clothes. We don’t have huge wardrobe changes every time we switch. When “the beast” finally fronted there was a scene where he climbed up a wall and if it wasn’t for how damaging this movie is it would have been laughable. It was just ridiculous.

DID is already considered a “controversial” diagnosis, despite being medically recognized all over the world. Stigma like this movie has a severe negative impact. There are tons of other movies that depict mental illness in damaging ways. We’re focusing on this one because it’s something we’re affected by every day.

I have been diagnosed with DID. The diagnosis has been confirmed by at least three psychiatrists. We have been admitted to psychiatric wards all over the country I think 12 times now. We have been admitted to a general hospital for treatment after alters have tried to end our lives. We are covered in self-inflicted scars. This is personal obviously and there are some very functional DID systems out there, don’t get me wrong, but any dangerous feelings we have we turn in on ourselves, we don’t hurt other people. This disorder prevents me from working and means I have to have a carer with me 24/7 for our safety.

DID is a mental disorder, after all — it’s not a joke or some twist in horror movies.

One part of the film that really upset me was when his therapist was killed. DID is recognized by professionals but there is no denying resources and just basic training is severely lacking in most parts of the world. Even within the medical community people are divided about the validity of DID. Who is going to want to try and work with these “scary” DID systems?

To say films like “Split” are “just a movie” or saying they “don’t hurt anyone” couldn’t be further from the truth.

Using myself as an example again, I was admitted to one psychiatric ward where the psychiatrist immediately picked up on our DID diagnosis and said DID doesn’t exist. He told me I was “clearly disturbed” and lying for attention because I didn’t get enough as a child. He literally said that DID is “the stuff of Hollywood movies.”

Now try and tell me it’s just a movie that has no real world implications. It is also not just uneducated people who are affected by stigma.

“Split” makes it terrifying for individuals pre-diagnosis to ask for help. This could result in the death of innocent people — innocent child abuse survivors.

“Split” makes it terrifying to be diagnosed and think that you’re as bad as the character M. Night Shyamalan created.

“Split” makes it terrifying to disclose your diagnosis to family, friends, co-workers, potential employers etc.

To those with DID (and other mental illness): this movie does not reflect who we are. We aren’t monsters, we are survivors and the world needs to see that.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

If you struggle with self-harm and you need support right now, call the crisis hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

If you or a loved one is affected by sexual abuse or assault and need help, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.

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Image via “Split” Facebook page

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